You may have missed it, but last week a Fulton County, Georgia jury sent a message to the City of Atlanta to inspect their streets for dangers to the motoring public. The message came in the form of a $1.4 Million verdict against the City of Atlanta, for severe personal injuries to a woman who was injured when she drove over a manhole whose cover had become dislodged. The plaintiff, Ms. Pamela Dale, suffered a compression fracture to her spine, multiple lacerations on her arm and permanent nerve damage to her arm and hand. She accrued about $89,000 in medical bills and was unable to perform her job for several weeks, and she had to work part-time for several more weeks. Her car was a total loss. She was represented by Attorney Michael Baskin.
For its defense, the City of Atlanta argued first that this was a state road so the Georgia Department of Transportation had responsibility for maintaining it. So the City of Atlanta attempted to blame someone else for its own negligence. Then the City argued it did not have to inspect its own streets to find problems that could injure someone driving on them. The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management manager testified that the city did not routinely inspect manholes and there was no evidence that it had advance notice of any defect in the manhole prior to the accident. Apparently, the jurors didn’t like that. They told plaintiff’s counsel after the verdict that they were very concerned with the City of Atlanta not inspecting its own streets on a routine basis and, therefore, essentially waiting until a citizen was injured from a defect in the street to inform the City about the problem. The City of Atlanta literally argued they only received notice of a problem with a street once someone had been hurt by it. Does this strike you as crazy? Or at least surprising? That’s the way it struck the jurors. According to Attorney Baskin, the jurors were “absolutely appalled at the city’s lack of inspections.”
And it’s not just the City of Atlanta that takes this position. Many other governmental entities do the exact same thing, i.e., only inspect streets or sidewalks after they receive a complaint about it from someone. They do not routinely inspect their own roads. I recently took the deposition of the Director of Public Works for DeKalb County, Georgia, and, interestingly, he said the same thing about DeKalb County, i.e., that DeKalb County relies on reports from citizens of any problem with a street, road or sidewalk before they get involved. DeKalb County Public Works does not inspect its roads and sidewalks proactively so as to avoid injury to a citizen. Nor does it have anyone inspecting their sidewalks to make sure they are in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. This means a disabled person has to get hurt first on a DeKalb County road or sidewalk before DeKalb County will do anything to fix the problem. DeKalb asserts that citizens can get in touch with them by phone, email, Facebook or Twitter, and that is, in their minds, sufficient.
I recently tried this out on my own, regarding a hole in a DeKalb County road at the intersection of Oxford Road and Emory Road, adjacent to the Emory University Campus. This hole had been covered by a large metal plate for over a year. Someone in our neighborhood even placed a birthday balloon on it to celebrate the metal plate’s one year birthday. I don’t think anyone baked it a cake, though. I took a photograph of it and tweeted it to DeKalb County. Surprisingly, within a couple of weeks of my tweet, there was a bulldozer placed next to this metal plate, a sure sign that DeKalb County was finally going to fix the road. Unfortunately, now there are several bulldozers there by the side of the road that have now been there for weeks. Hmmmm. It is arguably even more dangerous now as this intersection is down to one lane with no warning signs or traffic direction other than these cones. This is an incredibly busy intersection as it is next to the entrance of Emory University.
What do you think? Should a city of a county have a duty to inspect its roads, streets and sidewalks before someone becomes injured by them? In my opinion, that seems to be simply common sense. Yes, a city or county should be actively inspecting its streets, roads and sidewalks to prevent one of their citizens from being injured on them. If the City of Atlanta was listening to this Fulton County jury, then it should have heard loud and clear that this jury certainly thought the City of Atlanta should inspect its streets for prevention of injury. Will anything change? Time will tell. In the meantime, stay safe out there.
Robin Frazer Clark is a trial lawyer who pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia, a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, a Past President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and has practiced law in Georgia for 30 years. She is a member of the International Society of Barristers and of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer.
Robin Frazer Clark ~ Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.